I concede that I initially thought I might not be the best person to give an honest review of a book on alcohol. Not being much of a drinker, I generally shy away from any kind of liquor. Sure, I’ve tasted a variety of what’s on offer here in Japan (and admit to a fondness for umeshu, if I must choose 😉 ) and have taken many a sake brewery tour, but my knowledge of Japanese drinks could be classified as woefully lacking.
Yet The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks by Stephen Lyman and Chris Bunting, one of the newest titles from veteran publishing company Tuttle, is an engaging read, even for the non-drinker. Chock full of photos, historical facts and fun asides, I find this is a guide I’ll likely reference again.
The book is broken down by beverage, with a chapter devoted to each of Japan’s major alcoholic drinks. Chapters in Part 1 of the book include native Japanese beverages – sake, shochu and awamori, for example – while Part 2 discusses western-influenced drinks (whisky, beer, wine and cocktails).
Each chapter presents a general history of the beverage in Japan, as well as the process by which each drink is made (or brewed, fermented, what have you). Some chapters include hints on how best to drink the profiled beverage (there’s an entire two pages devoted to styles of shochu drinking); others profile the craftsmen behind the bottle.
Informational text boxes accompany each beverage section, with mini stories on things ranging from alcoholic aphrodisiacs, popular conbini purchase Chuhai, and Japan’s beer museums.
The final section of the book is a bar guide, profiling bars in both Japan and overseas that feature the classes of drinks referenced in the guide. This section is obviously the most prone to becoming outdated – Japan’s restaurant and bar scene is notoriously subject to change – but it gives the curious reader an entry point for their own google sleuthing.
While I’ve already given the guide a once through read, I actually plan to go back for a deeper dive, teasing out the fun facts and historical tidbits that make for memorable stories in my work as a tour guide. Worth a read for even the armchair traveler, with the potential to become a well-thumbed tome on an enthusiast’s shelf.
**I was given a free copy of this book by Tuttle Publishing for the purpose of reviewing; the views expressed are solely my own.